Lee and Barney Schwind have been married for sixty-five years. They’re my grandparents, and lucky for me, I grew up about three miles from their house. Family dinners happened often, and holidays were annual extravaganzas. When my parents went away on trips, my brother and I got to stay with Papa and Grandma, which was awesome, because they let us eat lots of candy and jump on the beds. Papa and Grandma are still amazingly awesome. Now, Grandma is 90; Papa is 89. I thought it was about time I interviewed them. These are some of their stories. It’s a Christmas present to my family and to you.
What were your parents like?
Grandma: My parents came over from Italy. They went to Ellis Island. You couldn’t get into this country unless you had somebody sponsoring you with the promise of a job. It was hard to get into the United States in those days. If you had any kind of illness, they didn’t let you in. A lot of people were sent back. My parents came over at different times. They didn’t meet until they were in the United States. It was really amazing that my mother and my aunt left home back then. It was a big deal to come over here, but they did it for a good reason. They wanted to make a living, and they couldn’t in Italy.
How did you two meet?
Papa: My roommate’s name was Vernon Cochran. He had red hair, so we all called him Rusty. So one Saturday, he said, “Hey, Barn, you doing anything tomorrow?” I said, “No, Why?” and he said, “Well, my girlfriend Flora, she’s gonna have a picnic this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and she wants me to get some guys to come. We’re gonna have food and beer and girls.” I said, “Put me down for three.” So we went to the picnic and met.
Grandma, what did you like about Papa when you first met him?
Grandma: He made me laugh. He was so clever. We just hit it off immediately, and it was the greatest picnic. We played baseball, and if you got to first base, they’d bring you a beer. Then, we could rent paddleboats. Papa rented one of those and took me for a ride.
Papa, what did you like about Grandma when you first met her?
Papa: I liked the way she looked. Big knockers.
Grandma: Bad boy!
How did you ask her to marry you?
Papa: In Central Park.
Grandma: We were sitting on a rock, overlooking the park.
Tell me about your wedding.
Grandma: We got married in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day. It was during Lent, and really you weren’t supposed to do hardly anything during Lent except pray. But the Bishop was Irish, so St. Patrick’s Day was a big deal. They painted a green stripe down Fifth Avenue, and they had a big parade. He suspended all regulations on St. Patrick’s Day, so that’s why we got married on St. Patrick’s Day. Then, back to Ohio we went. I once asked Papa Schwind, “What did you think when Barney told you he was going to marry a New Yorker?” And he said, “I said, ‘Look out, boy, LOOK OUT!’”
What made you guys decide to have kids?
Grandma: It really wasn’t a big decision. Everybody did it. Everybody had kids. And of course, I wanted them.
What was your favorite thing about having kids?
Grandma: I just loved being pregnant. And everyone complains about it, but I would just sit there and think, “Oh boy, I wonder what it’s gonna look like.” It was wonderful! And when it’d move, I’d get a big thrill out of that. I always looked forward to seeing this person that was inside of me.
Papa: One time, she said, “Come over here,” and she put my hand on her belly. The baby was kicking and kicking. It was so weird. I thought, “Jeez! There’s something alive in there!”
Tell me about your faith.
Papa: When I first went to school, they had what you’d call catechism. A little book that told all about God and the Ten Commandments and all that. Priests would come into the classroom and talk to us about God, and it was kinda cool, because it made you more or less realize it could be possible. Because before that you were kind of like, huh, am I really going to die and go to heaven or am I going to die and that’s it? Or will there really be an afterlife? I had a hard time being convinced about it for a while. So then I started praying more and thinking more about it.
So do you believe in Heaven now?
Papa: Yeah, I sure do. Boy, I’m so thankful, because when you die, you get to go to Heaven. And if we’re all good, we’ll all be reunited with each other—your family and your friends in Heaven.
Grandma: Well, I certainly hope it’s true, and I’m trying to conduct myself so just in case it’s true, then I’ll be okay. I’m not looking forward to dying, however. It’s such a good old world; I hate to leave it. So we’ll see. I truly believe that we are going someplace else—someplace better than here. We’ll all be like angels!